Saturday 18 January 2020

Hard work starts now for FAI chief

New dawn for FAI as Mooney beds in but Ross clear that he has no place

Under pressure: Noel Mooney starts his new role with the FAI today
Under pressure: Noel Mooney starts his new role with the FAI today

Even before he had sized up his new desk at his new job in the FAI, Noel Mooney had made a promise, to come to work with his shirtsleeves rolled up.

Starting a new job on a Bank Holiday may be unusual, but then again there's nothing usual about all that has gone on in the FAI over the last two and a half months.

"June 3rd is a bank holiday but football never sleeps so we will be here with the sleeves rolled up ready to get stuck into the next six months. There is a hell of a lot to do," Mooney said in an interview given to the FAI's own communications department last month, the only time that Mooney has spoken publicly since his return to the FAI, on a six-month secondment from his post at UEFA.

FAI HQ will be quiet today so Mooney will get time to acclimatise as he begins work as the de facto CEO of the FAI.

In fact, the hope inside that building, which still has the branding from the recently-concluded U17 European Championship finals on all the windows, is that the focus for the next week can be on football, not football politics.

On a high

Today, Stephen Kenny's Ireland U21s play China in the Toulon tournament in France, the squad containing Caoimhín Kelleher, a young man from Cork on a high after he collected a Champions League medal with Liverpool on Saturday night, thanks to his status as third-choice keeper with the Reds,. No doubt the FAI, desperate for a good-news story, will spin that line.

Also today, the senior squad will train at Lansdowne Road ahead of Friday's Euro 2020 qualifier in Copenhagen, the mood in the Irish camp a lot brighter than for our last meetings with the Danes, with even Denmark boss Age Hareide noting that Ireland under Mick McCarthy "look sharper and have a different enthusiasm in the team".

But wins for the U21s and the seniors in the week ahead can't dilute how serious things are in FAI HQ.

And Mooney has lot to deal with, as the government, in the form of Minister for Sport Shane Ross, gave Mooney and the FAI another kicking over the weekend. Ross has made it clear that Mooney was a bad choice for this FAI role.

"We don't want to see, and prefer not to see, people from the past," Ross said on Friday, not rowing back on strong comments he made in the Sunday Independent a week earlier.

"I want to see people who are completely new, fresh and independent of links with the past. Noel Mooney's appointment does not seem to us to be consistent with the drive for reform with new independent faces."

As if we had forgotten, state funding to the FAI remains cut off. Ross said last week that the Mooney appointment "won't help, obviously" in terms of getting that funding back in place.

"Our funding is now suspended, the long-term capital structure fund. And it won't help the restoration," Ross said of Mooney's role, adding as late as last Friday that he "hoped" Mooney would not even start work today.

The FAI's call (and it was their call, not UEFA's) to bring in Mooney as head of the salvage operation has done more than raise eyebrows, it has raised blood pressure too.

Asking someone with international experience of football administration to assist the embattled FAI for a spell was a wise thing to do. Getting in someone from UEFA was also a clever idea.

But bringing in Mooney was a terrible idea, and proof that many in the FAI just do not get it, don't understand how low that body stands in the court of public opinion.

The logical thing to do would have been to bring in a UEFA or FIFA official to help the FAI. But of the hundreds who are on the UEFA/FIFA payroll, they picked a man who had worked for the FAI, who was seen to be very close to the previous CEO John Delaney.

"We had a young CEO who managed to make the association fit for purpose," Mooney said when he addressed the FAI AGM in 2017.

Does Mooney still hold that view? Does Mooney find it acceptable that he spoke to that AGM, as an invited guest, but there was not a single question from the floor, nor was there a press conference for the media to ask questions?

Did he ask at the time why he could speak but none of the delegates could speak from the floor? If not, why not and how can he now be expected to be taken seriously as someone independent of a ridiculed regime?

And what exactly are Mooney's links to the report-issuing Jonathan Hall?

As Mooney will discover today and in the days ahead, offering to work on a bank holiday and spouting Davie Brent-isms like "football doesn't sleep" won't get him, or the FAI, very far.

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